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Since the first wind turbine was installed in Illinois, it’s been the purview of county governments to set the rules for siting and installation of the turbines within their borders.
This year, though, lawmakers may be asked to consider a bill that would take that authority away from counties and have uniform, statewide standards administered by a state agency.
Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville, has introduced what would create a statewide standard for wind energy facilities, as well as establish standards for removing wind turbines from property if that becomes necessary.
“To my knowledge, there is no involvement (now) from the state standpoint,” Sullivan said. “There are a few federal standards, but they are very minor and ‘big picture.’ We have kind of a hodge-podge of county-to-county regulations and standards.”
In Sullivan’s view, some counties “have done a real good job of developing their standards.”
“In other counties, in the view of some individuals at least, they have not maybe had the resources, the time and expertise to do that,” he said.
The idea of a single set of statewide standards is being promoted by the Illinois Farm Bureau. Bill Bodine, associate director of state legislation for the bureau, said that in some cases, a single wind farm operation can stretch into more than one county and be subject to different regulations.
He also said that the different regulations can mean different levels of protection for landowners who have wind turbines on their property.
“We’re seeking to establish statewide standards for siting, construction and deconstruction of wind farms,” Bodine said. “It will provide constancy to that process so the same level of protections can be provided to landowners and farmers no matter what county they live in or their location.”
He also said putting a state agency in charge of administering wind turbine regulations would mean “additional recourses and some additional expertise and experience in reviewing these projects and making decisions about siting.”
Bodine acknowledged that the wind industry is opposed to the idea of a uniform standard.
“The statement they have made is they are opposed,” he said.
Sullivan said it is not a matter that counties are being too lax in setting standards.
“There are some people who feel that the county ordinances that have been developed are not restrictive enough, and others would say they are too restrictive,” Sullivan said. “I think the wind developers would prefer to work with the counties individually. I think they probably have a concern some of the statewide standards could be more restrictive.”
He agreed it could also work the other way in some instances. A county with very tight restrictions could see some of them loosened under a statewide standard.
Sangamon County has had a wind turbine ordinance on the books for about seven years, said county coordinator Brian McFadden. Although there have been discussions about building a wind farm in the western part of the county, it has not materialized.
“The real meat and potatoes of these regulations is setbacks, how close a turbine can be to residential areas and municipalities,” McFadden said. “I believe we are on the stronger side with regard to that regulation. We thought we came up with something that was pretty fair.”
McFadden said the county board has not taken a position on Sullivan’s bill, in part because a lot of details have yet to be worked out. However, he noted the board “generally errs on the side of local control. There’s been a precedent set for local control.”
The Department of Agriculture, which would have oversight of the wind turbine regulations, said it is reviewing the legislation and has not taken a position on it.
Bodine said it is difficult to say how much detail will be in the bill by the time lawmakers are asked to vote on it. The Farm Bureau continues to negotiate with representatives of the wind industry over details. Right now, for example, the bill doesn’t mention a specific distance for setbacks. In some cases, he said, details will have to be resolved by rules set by state officials.
The standards also would address mitigating damage to land caused by construction of turbines and who will pay to remove turbines if that becomes necessary.
Since introducing the bill, Sullivan said he’s heard from county officials who don’t want to lose control over the wind turbine regulations. He said he’s also heard from people opposed to wind turbines who feel his bill doesn’t go far enough.
“I would say I have work to do before I’ll be in a position to move forward,” he said.
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